Beach Combing For Gardeners

The beach has long been my second favorite place, next to the garden of course!  Its there that everything becomes clear and simple, and beach-combing helps me focus as I scan the blank canvas of the sand and shells.  A gardener can get a lot out of the seaside!  Besides the obvious gift of calm and relaxation, you can find seeds for planting, materials for your garden, and plain old inspiration.

Beach-combing is more than simply looking for seashells!  Truth be told, I scan right over the shells in search of a frosty piece of tumbled sea glass, completely ignoring the whelks in favor of a glossy sea bean or a seedpod.  You may wonder; whats so amazing about a worn piece of broken glass, a big bean or a trashy looking pod?  From a gardeners perspective, everything.  You can grow plants from those seeds, use seaglass and sea beans as garden ornament, and learn from the 'garden' on the dunes.

Sea beans (like this entada gigas or sea heart) wash up on Florida beaches from the tropics in Central and South American rainforests, traveling by floating via the gulf stream and other currents, and are eventually deposited on our shores along with sargassum weed at the high tide line.  Usually beachcombers stay away from the seaweed, since the fresh seashells and sharks teeth are usually found in the surf zone, but they have no idea what they're missing!

Sea beans come in many different species, can be polished and made into jewelry, planted, or simply collected.  As some of you remember, I planted an entada gigas bean earlier this year, and its rambling all over my shrubs at the moment.  They do come from the tropics, so I don't expect it to live through winter.

I find many other seeds on the beach too, like starnut palm seeds and 'Mary's bean', as well as natives like coral beans, mangrove seeds, bay bean, and sea grape.  I recently even found a long cassia fistula pod, with dry seeds still intact and protected by the waterproof pod.  I'll be planting some of the seeds soon, as they appear to be viable!

I also get a lot of creative inspiration from the beach, and I usually lose my cold feet after a walk in the hot sand.  Above is a painting I did that was inspired by aerial photography of the offshore reefs, as well as the glassy wall of a breaking wave.  I embedded transparent and frosty sea glass into the many layers of paint and resin, making the painting take on different looks as the light strikes it throughout the day.

I painted this after having taken a photo at Gamble Rogers State Park on a camping trip.  The dunlins were snatching up mole crabs as they emerged right before the waves crashed.  The group of birds was running right ahead of the breaking waves, and in this painting two waves were converging upon them, which I thought made an interesting composition.

I've brought together my love of the beach, as well as some finds, in a little container for my shady balcony.  The only two plants are coral rhipsalis and cryptanthus, also known as earth star.  I got the idea for this little undersea grouping by noting the similarities of the pink barnacle shells and the earth stars.  They're both the same hue of pink, with radiating lines of the same grayish color too!  As the earth stars grow, I'll find more barnacles to replace the other stuff with.

The 'other stuff' includes a mulch of white and seafoam colored sea glass, sea urchin spines (admittedly purchased and not found) and some pieces of coral that I've salvaged.

What kind of treasures have you found at the beach?

For more...
September Table of Contents
Plant ProfilesCoral Reef Succulent Container
Coral Reef Succulent Container 2
Seabean Sprouted!


  1. Oh my besides being a gardener you are a beach lover and a wonderful artist. Your little balcony container has inspired me to see what I can come up with. DH and I love picking up shells and other interesting pieces from the beach. Not too long ago, he found a whole starfish, it is now residing in the window area over the sink where I wash dishes.

    Thank you for this lovely post.


  2. Steve,
    Those sea urchin spines and barnacles look great in the container mixed in with the plants. You are a great artist too - I love the one with the birds in the surf!

  3. Beautiful arrangement, and beautiful post as well! So far, all I have found are Sea Almonds, which are quite attractive too. I think of you when I am there looking for a sea bean of any sort!!!

  4. Wow, I must say I love those paintings! You are quite the artist! Especially love those birds! Glad you lost those cold feet. Living inland, I clearly don't get to comb the beach that often. Sea glass? That's a new one to me. Don't recall ever finding such a thing, but like I said, I don't get over to the ocean enough. I'm thinking a trip is in order....

  5. Flowerlady:
    Starfish are neat too! I tried incorporating one into the arrangement but it looked even more cluttered. I love my coarse textured shelly beaches, but the boring flat ones are the best for starfish, especially when there's an offshore reef!

    Thanks! I could be a great artist if I took the time to do it... those are from a few years back and I have way too many interests.

    I think sea almonds are amazing since they wash up in varying levels of decomposition. They are common, but they also help tell me where there's likely to be other drift seeds!

    Glad you like the paintings! Its been a while since I've done any painting, but all of that creativity now goes right into this blog! If you're looking for seaglass and seabeans, your best bet is to look around Melbourne or Cocoa beach.

  6. I love your painting and the beach items in your potted plant. Very clever idea! I wish I could find some sea glass at the beach...I'll have to keep my eyes open for it.

  7. That's a great little combo in the planter and I love those gorgeous seed pods! I think my biggest beach find was dozens of tiny sand dollars. No bigger than a dime. They were gorgeous.

  8. I love what you did with the plants all together. Looks like I'm taking a peek in the underwater worlds. :D Nicely done.

  9. Great post melding my two favorite places as well. Like you, I pass by the shells for sea glass but never think to look for beans and seeds. I wonder if they are on our coast as well? Really enjoyed your paintings. Very nicely done.

  10. Wow! Your planting is inspiring. I love the barnacles and the earth stars together.

    And your painting is magnificent. Keep doing what you are doing, it's a joy to see these things.

  11. Not being fond of the beach, I rarely visit the Atlantic or Caribbean, but when I do collecting seeds is the only interesting activity I am fond off.

    Great posting. It is the first time I read anything with the approach. Congratulations.

    Being original in the blog world is not simple.

  12. Susan:
    The best place to find it is where the surf is strong and the sand particles are large and shelly.

    danger garden:
    I've seen a cluster of those before too! Aren't they so much more amazing when they're tiny?

    Thanks! That's the look I was going for too!

    Seabeans are rarer there, but I have seen a variety of other drift seeds there. If you're ever on the east coast try Sattelite Beach or Cocoa!

    I'm really glad you like the paintings! I've been focusing more on creatively writing and gardening lately, but art carries over no matter what we do.

    I don't do anything but beachcomb at the beach anymore. I can't focus on anything else when I know there's nature to discover!

  13. Woah, I didn't ever really consider being a seed scavenger at the beach. Those are some really cool seeds and that planter is awesome.

  14. Oh how I love your beautiful sea scape succulent pot! You have inspired me! I wish it was spring. I think I will write down some of my ideas to remember for next year! And in July we go to the beach for a week so I will be hunting like you!


  15. Have you stumbled upon the wonderful group of beachcombers at ?

  16. Why yes I have! I'm on the listserv too... I haven't made it out to a seabean symposium yet, but I hope to someday!


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